Two Sisters, Two Brides-to-Be
When I couldn't bear the emotionally-charged atmosphere in the house a moment longer, I slipped outside. I leaned against the railing of the patio, looking out over the fields of John and Amanda's farm. For once, though, I wasn't drinking every detail in, the way I usually did. I was just staring absently into the distance.
"Hey," A footstep sounded behind me and a familiar voice called softly, "Are you all right?"
Chuckling, I turned to see my boyfriend of almost three and a half years standing behind me, "Yeah."
"Aren't you cold?"
"How could I be cold with this blazing South African sun?" I retorted, closing my eyes in bliss at the feel of its rays on my face. Then I opened them again and smiled at David, "No, really. I'm fine. I just had to get out of the house for a while."
"Well, much as I love Saoirse and Kyle, I can't be in the same room as them for too long. It's positively sickening!"
"No it isn't!" David flew to defend his cousin, and I laughed. He reached out for me, "You're forgetting that we're just as bad. You're just jealous."
"No, I'm not," I protested, "Why would I be? I don't need Saoirse anymore. Not the way I used to. And I've made friends with Kyle now. You know I have."
"Yeah, but that doesn't change anything. You're still jealous."
David snaked his arms around my waist and I leant my head back against his chest.
"You know me so well," I murmured at last, "Better than I know myself, I think. Yeah, you're right. I am jealous. It's not that I begrudge Saoirse and Kyle their happiness. Far from it. They've been through a lot. Nine years they've been together this Christmas. And they've been engaged these last two years, but Saoirse pushed it off because she wanted to finish her Registrar training first. They deserve their happiness. It's just…"
"It's just what?"
"Sometimes, I wish we were like them," I confessed, rushing on, "I adore you, David, and you know that, but sometimes when I watch them together, particularly now, I wish we could be like that. We've had such a rocky relationship at times; they haven't. They've been so steady. Nine years and barely a serious argument in all that time. I wish we could be more like them."
"We can be, if you want to be," he assured me. I chuckled lowly, then started as he tightened his arm around me and whirled me around to face him, "Well?"
"What's your answer? Do you want to be more like them or not?"
The fire in his tone suddenly made something click. I pulled back against his arms, shaking my head, "Oh, no, no, no. I'm not answering. Not unless you ask me properly. You owe me that, at least. After everything, you owe me that."
David stared at me for a moment. Then, he took my hand between both of his and slowly but surely sank to one knee before me. I watched him go, feeling almost as though I were in a dream. Releasing my hand for the briefest of instants, he took a stunning aquamarine and diamond ring from his pocket. Holding it out to me, he raised his head and looked up at me, love shining in his deep blue eyes.
"Cara. Carolina. Carolina Francesca Aisling Greenwood O'Brady. My Carolina. Would you do me the greatest honour in the world? Would you do me the honour of becoming my wife?"
Tears sprang to my eyes and I didn't even bother to fight them as I nodded, unable to find my voice.
They rolled down my cheeks unchecked, even as David rose, tightened his grasp on my left hand and slipped the ring on to my finger. I flung my arms around him and he swung me off the ground, spinning me in a circle as I finally choked out the words I had thus far found it impossible to say.
"Yes! Yes! Oh, David, a thousand times yes! A thousand times yes!"
Every eye turned to us as we walked back inside. At the time, I didn't know why. After all, it was Saoirse and Kyle's night. They should have been the centre of attention, not us. Yet every eye turned to us as we walked back into the house.
It was only later, when David showed me the photographs that Peter took that night, that I realised why. In the space of a few minutes, I had changed beyond measure. My head was up and my shoulders were back. The smile on my face, while pleasant before, was suddenly lighting up the room. . I was suddenly glowing, radiant with an internal happiness that had been lacking earlier.
In short, I was walking as though I were brimming with confidence; confidence in the fact that I had the unshakeable love of the man who was walking beside me.
At the time, however, I just let David lead me to the table and seat me in my usual place at the right of the head of the table. Meanwhile, he went to stand at the head of the table and raised his glass.
"I think this calls for a toast. A toast to my beautiful cousin, Saoirse and her beloved Kyle. Saoirse and Kyle!"
"Saoirse and Kyle!" We echoed his words and the two of them blushed at the attention. Even blushing though, Saoirse looked stunningly beautiful. I flashed her a smile as David continued, "May you have every happiness, both tomorrow and for forever. But I too have a reason to be happy tonight. For that reason, I would like to propose another toast. To Carolina, our darling Carolina, who has just a few minutes ago done me the honour of agreeing to become my wife someday. To Carolina O'Brady, my cousin and fiancée!"
"Carolina O'Brady!" The others repeated his words without really taking them in. A moment later, however, there was a stunned silence, broken only by Madeline's hoarse whisper, "Did you just say…?"
David nodded, "I did. "
Amy and Marie turned to me, mouths agape.
"Carolina! Is this true?"
"Don't you believe David?" I laughed.
"Of course we do! It's just…it's a shock!"
"Well, you'd better get used to it! He's not lying," So saying, I rose, coming round the table to stand beside David. He slipped his arm around my waist and I spread my hands out before the others, letting them see the golden aquamarine and diamond ring that rested on the third finger of my left hand, catching the light as I continued, "He really has asked me. We really are engaged."
The women in the house descended upon us, embracing me and David over and over, kissing me rapturously.
"That's the ring his father gave me," Amanda cried, as she caught me to her, crushing me against her chest, "He asked if he could have it and I said yes, but I had no idea he was planning to ask you! Not here and not now, anyway!"
"Well, he has," I replied, unable to help the way my eyes flicked over her shoulder to catch Saoirse's. She looked stunned. Stunned and not a little disappointed.
Disengaging myself from Amanda's hold, I went over to her. We looked at each other, brown eyes meeting blue.
"Cee'sa…" I started, calling her by my childhood name for her for the first time in almost two decades.
"Don't, Cara. Just don't," she cut me off. We stared at one another for a little longer.
"You always knew how to steal our thunder, didn't you? I guess I shouldn't be surprised this is no exception," she managed at last. Though she tried to hide them, I could hear the scarcely-suppressed tears in her voice. I caught at her hand.
"Saoirse, please. I didn't realise David would announce our engagement here. If I had…if he'd asked my opinion, I would have told him to wait. Tonight should have been your night, not mine. But you know David. Asking permission is not exactly his strong point. "
"That's true enough," Despite herself, Saoirse managed a wry chuckle, "Are you sure you can handle him?"
"I've handled him for three years. If I've managed him that long, I think I should be all right."
Saoirse fell silent and, not wanting to press her too far, I slipped my arm around her waist silently. Thank Goodness she didn't pull away. Sending a wordless prayer up to Heaven for that fact, I turned to the men.
"Right, you lot. Out. Especially you, Kyle. It's bad luck for you to see the bride before the wedding. We've had our family dinner, so now shift. If nothing else, Saoirse needs her beauty sleep."
Laughing, they did as they were told, kissing us all one by one as they filed out. Saoirse and I went to the door to see them off. As we stood there, side by side, I felt her slip her hand into mine. Entwining our fingers, she gave my hand a quick squeeze.
I turned to her. To my delighted relief, her eyes, which had been dark and stormy, were now back to their usual cornflower blue. She tilted my chin up so that we were looking each other in the eye.
"Are you sure you can handle David, Cara?" she repeated.
"I've handled him this long," I repeated , "I think I'll be all right."
"In that case..," She pulled me into her arms and held me. I buried my face in her chest, breathing in her scent as I exhaled with relief. She'd accepted it. Even though we'd stolen her thunder, she'd accepted David and I together. I would never be able to repay her for this. Never.
The words she whispered into my ear were the sweetest I had ever heard.
"Welcome to the family, little sister."